This is the first time a survey has found majority support for gay marriage, with 57% of respondents agreeing that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. As GetUp!’s media release notes, this is a big increase on the last poll on gay marriage, a 2004 Newspoll that found 38% in favour. Could things have changed that much in two years?
Actually, less than two years. Over 2005 and 2006 there were three surveys on the seemingly less contentious issue of civil unions, with the proportions in favour ranging from 45% to 52%. That gay marriage now comes out ahead of civil unions, without any major intervening debate or publicity, inevitably raises question about whether opinion has really changed or it is something to do with the survey itself.
If real, the gain in support for gay marriage has come more from winning over undecideds than from converting those who were previously against it. The civil union polls had between 11% and 19% of respondents declining to offer an opinion, the Galaxy recorded only a 6% ‘don’t know’. Undecideds are presumably easier to win over than those who were initially opposed, but perhaps also more likely to be swayed by the considerations raised, or not raised, by the survey.
In this case, Galaxy started with a question about whether same-sex partners should have the same legal rights under Medicare and with superannuation as heterosexual partners, which 71% of respondents thought they should. Perhaps an initial question relating to seemingly arbitrary discrimination like these examples set the undecided up to continue with the logic of non-discrimination.
But I suspect a more important factor was the absence of a ‘neither’ option as an answer – possibly respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the same-sex marriage question, but a ‘don’t know’ was recorded for those who could not decide. The absence of any mention of children or adoption (or even the word ‘gay’) perhaps avoided the topics that cause most doubt about gay marriage, as has been apparent in previous debates on this blog.
Given my own views on this subject, I’d like to believe that opinion has shifted in the way recorded in Galaxy’s poll. While I certainly think the long-term trend is promising because there have already been shifts over time (in the earliest survey I have found on this subject, the 1989-90 National Social Science Survey, less than 15% were in favour of gay marriage), because the undecideds in earlier research suggest people are open to persuasion, and because the young are more in support than the old, the Galaxy results are too inconsistent with what other pollsters have found for me to accept this result as solid. I want to see a couple more surveys with similar results before I will be convinced.